Trouble in Store

Samir Abumayyaleh says he tried to get Minneapolis cops to crack down on drug dealing around his shop. He never figured they'd target him.

Abumayyaleh says he has never witnessed drug dealing inside his store. He does sell cell phones, he says, as a licensed Aerial and Airtouch dealer. "There's signs and displays all over the store. I've sold cell phones and pagers to Minneapolis police officers over the past several years," he asserts, adding that when he buys used cell phones, he makes "every effort" to ensure that they're not hot merchandise.

The Cup Foods raid was not the first time Minneapolis police have investigated neighborhood convenience stores for peddling stolen property. On March 16, 1998, 170 law-enforcement officials from the MPD, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Customs, and the Internal Revenue Service, raided 28 convenience stores and confiscated merchandise ranging from cigarettes to computers. Police officials characterized the bust as the largest property-crime sting in recent years. Cup Foods was not among the stores targeted.

C.C.P./SAFE officer Mike Looney says the city has not yet decided whether to bring charges against the Cup Foods owners; according to Looney, some of the items seized were "questionable." But even if the Abumayyalehs are not prosecuted, he says, the city may try to shut down their store under nuisance laws. "At best, they are turning a blind eye to criminal activity occurring inside," he says. "They are not telling suspicious patrons to leave, not watching to see if their customers are conducting illegal activities."

But that, says University of Minnesota criminal law professor Richard Frase, may be easier said than done. "You can kick people out, but if it's drug dealers, they tend to be rough, and there's a certain fear." Frase says he has "some sympathy" for police seeking to crack down on criminal activity around convenience stores. "But if [an owner] is calling police all the time," he adds, "the argument may not be plausible. [Police] have to find a way to work with business owners and citizens. Otherwise the message is, 'Don't call the police to complain, or you may become the target.'"

That is what happened to them, the Abumayyalehs and their attorney argue. In his complaint about the raid, Ron Meshbesher paints a picture of hard-working storeowners scapegoated in an investigation that failed to connect them with any criminal activity. The attorney notes that according to officer Appledorn's affidavit, the drug buys at Cup Foods involved "known gang members"--not the owners or employees. "A judge should have dismissed her application [for a search warrant] for lacking probable cause," he says.

Police spokeswoman Penny Parrish declines to discuss the case at length, but says the city is confident that the warrant will stand. "We got enough evidence to satisfy a judge," says Parrish. "There really isn't anything else to say."

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